Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
Interview with The East star and co-writer Brit Marling
Matthew Lickona: Tell me about Sarah's naivete.
Brit Marling: I thought of her as a thoroughbred racehorse. She's very well trained, and she gets a lot of pleasure out of just running the race. But she just sees what's directly in front of her - the goal of winning. And then somebody rips the blinders off, and she becomes aware that she's running a race, that people are betting and making money off of it, and she's just running in circles. She sees the pasture beyond the fence, and the question is, "Can you jump the fence and find a new way to live?"
ML: But even after the blinders come off, she's making speeches about how the food she finds in a dumpster is good food, and that's the evidence that the system is broken. Stores have to throw food away so that customers don't buy it and get sick. There's a law, and the law is there because somebody got sick and sued. They're not setting out to throw away good food.
BM: That's the great problem. None of it is wrong, exactly; it's just also not right. The first time I went dumpster diving, I was like, "This is ridiculous." But then you get all this packaged bread and peanut butter and bananas and apples. I would eat three vegan meals a day out of a dumpster at the squat that were as good as anything I've ever eaten out of a Whole Foods. I understand the law being there to protect people from getting sick, but you feel like there's a glitch in the Matrix. Everything feels a little bit off, and how do you solve the problem without unraveling the whole system? It's hard.
ML: This gets at the difficulty of making an environmental movie. Things keep coming back to humanity being its own enemy because it has desires it can't control. How do you make a movie in which humanity is the villain?
BM: I think it's the difficulty of the time we're living in. It's all gray; there's no single antagonist. You can't even point at the corporation and say, "This is all bad." There's also good. Think of the drugs that have been developed to prolong the lives of people with HIV/AIDS. But there's a complicated thing that happens when profit - making more money next quarter than this quarter - is the mechanism driving society and culture. A lot of great things happen, but there are a lot of casualties. This may not be true at all, but I feel like knowledge is the mechanism for cure - looking at things and talking about solutions, as opposed to not looking. And I feel like modern culture is designed to keep you from looking. Zal and I certainly don't feel like we know any of the answers to the problems. But if we don't even ask the questions, that seems to be the greatest danger.
I remember taking macroeconomics freshman year, and the professor was like, "We're going to make some assumptions, and we're going to build all these models off of those assumptions. We have to do this to make things simple and clean. The assumptions are that resources are infinite, the populations is constant, and that the more things people buy, the more their happiness or utility increases. And then you enter the world as an economics major, and you start working at a bank, and you start thinking about how these three assumptions are exactly what's wrong with everything. We're running out of resources, the environment is crumbling, the population is exploding - we can't take care of everyone at the same level - and people don't actually get happier as they consume more.
ML: Zal and I talked about the Spin the Bottle scene a bit. I was curious how you came up with the notion of spin the bottle, but with everyone asking permission. I would have thought that the thrill of spin the bottle was that the bottle dictates what happens.
BM: The thrill of the bottle is where is it going to land? The question it leaves open is, what kind of interaction are you going to have with that person? It was one of the things that blew my mind while we were on the road. [Ed. - Batmanglij and Marling spent several months living with various fringe groups - anarchists, freegan collectivists, etc. - prior to writing The East.] Spin the bottle sounds so juvenile, from a time when nobody has kissed each other yet and everyone is very nervous. But man, it was so beautiful when it happened. When we did it in the film, we played it a couple of times according to the script, and then Zal came in and said, "Throw the scripts away and play for real, and whatever happens, happens." And the same same energy that happened when we played it on the road happened in that room.
ML: And the permissions thing?
BM: The consent part about it means that you're still a radical, autonomous human being. If somebody wants something from you, they have to ask for it, and you have to give permission. That's a huge thing among anarchists. They always talk about the oppression of women and how culture is so oppressive to women - they're always half-naked on a billboard as a sex object. So you can't just slide into sex with somebody. They feel that you have to recognize that women are oppressed, and that, as an oppressed people, you have to make sure that everything is consent every step of the way, so that she isn't sliding into her oppression. She's able to voice whether or not she wants something.
The stuff that comes up is so beautiful; sometimes people say, "No, but we can hug instead." And soemtimes, the whole thing just makes everyone feel so good. They feel connected. They laugh a lot. People get uncomfortable watching these moments of intimacy. I think it's because we're at a place where there's a crisis of intimacy. WIth Twitter and Skype and everything, everything is at a remove. It's hader to sit across from someone and look them in the eye and have a conversation with them, have that openness of exchange.
In the film, Doc feels silly playing the game, but three minutes into the bear hug, something in him unlocks, and he's just like, "Oh. I've actually been craving affection! I didn't know that I needed a hug!" All the irony of these times, maybe that's all a little thin and silly. Maybe we actually need each other.
More like this:
- Interview with Thanks for Sharing writer-director Stuart Blumberg — Sept. 19, 2013
- Interview with Much Ado About Nothing director Joss Whedon — June 20, 2013
- Interview with The East director and co-writer Zal Batmanglij — June 13, 2013
- Interview with Bless Me, Ultima stars Luke Ganalon and Castulo Guerra — Feb. 22, 2013
- Interview with Starlet director and co-writer Sean Baker — Dec. 4, 2012